•This is a contributed post.
When you’re expecting your first child, one of the things people are most keen to talk about is surviving those sleepless nights. Every parent you come across seems to have different experiences, but everyone has a similar recollection of nursing their newborn in the early hours and struggling to keep their eyes open during the day. Sleep is something we need, but in the first few weeks, it can elude us. Some children sleep a lot, and they develop a routine, which sticks with them until they’re toddling around. Others have trouble sleeping, and parents can still be experiencing disturbed nights years after they first bring that little bundle of joy home. If you’re preparing to be a parent or you have children who don’t seem to like sleep as much as you do, this guide should come in handy.
Sleeping tips for new parents
When you have a newborn, it’s very common to wake several times during the night. Not many new parents will get a decent night’s sleep in those first few weeks. Newborns tend to adopt a cycle of napping and then feeding. As they feed more, you may find that they sleep for longer. At first, it can be a shock to the system when you’re waking up every couple of hours, and you may feel incredibly tired, especially during the day. At first, the adrenaline and excitement can power you through days when you feel exhausted, but it is a good idea to have some tips and tricks up your sleeve.
Try and share the load if you have a partner. If you’re breastfeeding, you may be responsible for keeping your little one fed and watered, but that doesn’t mean that you have to get up every time. There may be episodes when your baby wants some attention, or they need a nappy change, and your partner can tend to them while you get some rest. If your partner is at work during the day, try and take advantage of offers from friends and family. You often find that everyone is desperate to help out and see the baby, so don’t hesitate to take your mum or your sister up on the offer of a quick visit. While they watch the baby, you can have a shower, have a sleep or even just enjoy half an hour to yourself. It may sound like nothing, but little breaks like this can make all the difference. It’s amazing how a power nap and a hot bath can give you the energy you need to go again.
Most adults have a sleeping pattern, and this goes out of the window when you have children. Gone are the days when you get into bed at 11pm and wake up at 6.30am. For the first few months, your sleep routine may be turned completely on its head. If this is the case, try and sleep whenever you can, regardless of the time of day. If your baby is napping, try and get your head down for an hour.
Establishing a routine
Routine is one of the most overused words you’ll come across when you’re pregnant, or you have a young child. There are hundreds of books and manuals that will be recommended to you. While it can be really beneficial to have a routine for your child, there is no universal guide for parents to follow. Every child is different, and even if you have 2 or 3 children, you may find that they have completely different patterns when it comes to sleeping, even though they share the same DNA and sleeping environment. Some children fall into a routine at a very early age, and sleep problems are never a concern. Others don’t sleep through the night until they’re 2 or 3 years old. You can start to try and establish a bedtime routine from the age of around 3 months old. It’s helpful to try and show your baby the difference between day and night by closing the curtains at night, making the nursery dark and preparing them for sleep. Have a bath, read a story, and make the room a relaxing, quiet space. When your children are older, they’ll understand that getting into their pyjamas, turning the lights down low and getting cosy in bed will mean that it’s time for bed. Try and aim for a similar time each night, so that your child’s body clock can get used to the regime.
Dealing with sleep problems
Some children find it very difficult to get to sleep or to fall asleep without you there. This could be a sign of separation anxiety, or it may be linked to problems like nightmares, which are fairly common in young children. If you have a child who wants to sleep in your bed all the time or you sit with them and they wake up as soon as you try and leave the room, there are various methods you can try. One thing you may consider is putting another bed or a mattress in their room or investing in an option like a bunk bed or triple bunk beds. This way, there is room for you to stay in the room with them, but you can leave when they fall asleep without disturbing them. If you don’t want to stay with them, put them to bed after you’ve been through the usual bedtime routine, and tell them that you’ll be back in a minute to give them a kiss goodnight. Stay close to the room, and then pop back every five minutes and give them a kiss until they’ve fallen asleep. If they have the reassurance that you’re nearby and you’re coming back, this will help them feel calm when they get into bed. Many young children are afraid of the dark. A simple solution to overcome this problem is leaving a light on or buying a night light.
It can take time for children to get used to sleeping in their own room or not having you there when they go to bed, so be prepared for them to act up. They may cry, scream, or have a tantrum for days or weeks, but be persistent, and try not to cave in and let them stay up or sleep in your bed.
Every parent has stories about sleep. Whether you’ve been lucky and you have a child that has slept through from an early age, or you’ve got a child who seems to have an endless supply of energy, it’s important to try and get some rest. Children need sleep, but so do adults. Hopefully, if you’re a parent struggling to get forty winks, this guide will help.